Densha Unten Shirei Review (電車運転指令)

I just wanted to write a very quick English review for a new game that doesn’t appear to have any yet.  Densha Unten Shirei by Arc System Works (¥800) is not quite a new Densha de Go game, but it’s close enough.  In fact, it’s best thought of as a Densha de Go light, or a Densha de Go for kids.

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Unlike most new train driving sims out there, this one goes for the all 3D rendered graphics (rather than the controllable video footage style).  And while the line’s scenery isn’t necessarily exact (I don’t live in this area so it’s difficult for me to say for sure), it is convincing.  Using the collection feature we can see that there are 89 different buildings, 16 different billboards, and six different trees used to populate the side of the line.  And the effect is convincing:  when you’re in downtown Tokyo it feels crowded and claustrophobic, and when you’re passing through some suburb it feels like that too.  Plus if you like the 3DS’s 3D effects, it looks pretty good in this game.  It really helps contribute to feeling like you’re really looking down the line from the cab.

The line itself appears to be done entirely to scale as well, with the real-world distances between the stations, etc.  At ¥800 you only get one line (the Tokaido line between Tokyo and Atami, all stations included) and the three train services that run on it (regular, rapid, and express) with one train for each, but it is rounded out somewhat with three different control schemes (for which you can use buttons or stylus) and three different times of day (morning, noon, and sunset).  However, to really make those three train types go farther, there are apparently 140 different wrappings/paint-jobs/liveries to choose from.

In Free mode you can use any combination of these things to drive any distance you like and in any style you like, freely ignoring speed limits, etc. if you please.  But many things (namely the different wrappings) need to be unlocked via their Gatcha system, tickets for which are earned by doing missions, the main bulk of the game.  In these missions the kid-friendly, casual nature of the game is revealed.

You see, while you are expected to get the train into the station as close to the exact time as possible and in the correct position, there are no penalties for breaking too suddenly, accelerating in the station, etc., etc.  Instead they’ve basically moved these all into a points bar, which is described as the amount of electricity you are permitted to use.  Obviously your pantograph should provide you with unlimited amounts of that, but, again, it is best just thought of as a points bar.  For the more smoothly you accelerate and brake, and the more time you spend coasting rather than jerking that lever up and down all the time, the more “electricity” you will have left at the end of each mission.  The more left over, the higher your score (in combination with being on time, stopping at the line, obeying the speed limits, etc.).  While this is obviously not an ideal situation for someone looking for a true train simulator, I don’t think it takes away for that ideal all too much.  (And, again, this is not present in the Free mode at all.)

In the end, the game is a bit more arcade-y and kid-friendly than a true train sim, and if you’re prepared to approach it that way, then I can heartily recommend it.  Also, a great knock-on effect of it having children in mind is that the entire game, every last bit of it, has furigana.  So this game is fantastic for Japanese learners, even beginners who don’t know much beyond their hiragana (so long as they come equipped with a dictionary).  Even for those who know zero Japanese the game is straight-forward enough that it is more than easily enjoyable.  You might just have to spend a bit more time at the beginning figuring out the basic systems.

Between Free mode, the sizable number of missions, and the hundreds of things to collect, there’s quite a lot of fun to to be had here for less than eight dollars.  Also, there’s a free demo to be had.  It doesn’t include much past the tutorial, but it is enough to give you a little glimpse.  If you do like it at all, I encourage you to go ahead and make the purchase.  With enough luck, we’ll get some sequels with new lines!

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